Is anywhere remote enough to escape your past?

  

Is anywhere remote enough to escape your past?

The Dark Isle is an espionage story set in Orkney and London and told from the perspective of the daughter of a spy. The original inspiration for the book was my own family. We grew up knowing my dad did some kind of secret undercover work for the police, but we were always hazy about the details. After his death, we found out via a television documentary that he was effectively a spy, complete with fake identity and double life.

Perhaps not surprisingly I always loved reading books about espionage, but I was also slightly frustrated to find that most are written from the perspective of the spies. With some rare exceptions – the t.v. series The Americans - the voices of their families are rarely heard. I wanted to turn that convention on its head and write about the world of spies and undercover agents from the perspective of their families, an insider-outsider’s view. Which is how I ended up writing a trilogy with a police spy’s daughter – Sam Coyle – as the protagonist.
All three books are set in the seventies and eighties, at the tail end of the Cold War. The Dark Isle is located partly in Hoy, one of the most mysterious and beautiful of Orkney’s islands. We used to go on holiday to Orkney every summer when I was a child. I realised much later this was because my dad thought it was so remote he was unlikely to meet anybody from the other side of his double life. That realisation gave me the questions that inspired the Dark Isle – is there any place remote enough for a spy to avoid their secret life? How far does a spy, or their family, have to go to escape from their shadowy past?

I had a trip to an island in my mind from those childhood Orkney holidays; pink sand, deserted crofts, paddling in a burn. Over thirty years later, it didn’t take much detective work to identify this half-remembered beach as Hoy’s Rackwick Bay, a place George Mackay Brown described as Orkney’s ‘last enchantment.’ The hamlet has more inhabitants now than it did in the seventies, but the bay is still magical; a golden crescent guarded by towering sandstone crags where sea eagles nest and skuas patrol. On a calm summer’s day you can hear the tide rising, but in winter the Atlantic storms roll in and rearrange the boulders lining the shore. A perfect location for a story about spies determined to obliterate the traces of their past.


The Dark Isle by Clare Carson is out now in hardback and ebook